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Chapter 2 A Merry Christmas

  Jo was the first to wake in the grey dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when a little sock fell down because it was so crammed with goodies. Then she remembered her mother's promise, and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guide-book for any pilgrim going the long journey. She woke Meg with a `Merry Christmas', and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared with the same picture inside, and a few words written their mother, which made their one present very precious their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke, to rummage a find their little books also - one, dove-coloured, the other blue; and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

  In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet a pious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sister especially Jo, who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed her because her advice was so gently given.

  `Girls,' said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond, `Mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once. We used to be faithful about it; but since Father went away, and all this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things. You can do as you please; but I shall keep my book on the table here, and read a little every morning as soon as I wake for I know it will do me good, and help me through the day.'

  Then she opened her new book and began to read. Jo put her arm round her, and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also with the quiet expression so seldom seen on her restless face.

  `How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let's do as they do. I'll help you with the hard words, and they'll explain things if we don't understand,' whispered Beth, very much impressed by the pretty books and her sisters' example. `I'm glad mine is blue,' said Amy; and then the rooms were very still while the pages were softly turned, and the winter sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting.

  `Where is Mother?' asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down to thank her for their gifts, half an hour later. `Goodness only knows. Some poor creeter come a-beggin', and your ma went straight off to see what was needed. There never was such a woman for givin' away vittles and drink, clothes, and firin',' replied Hannah, who had lived with the family since Meg was born, and was considered by them all more as a friend than a servant.

  `She will be back soon, I think; so fry your cake, and have everything ready,' said Meg, looking over the presents which were collected in a basket and kept under the sofa, ready to be produced at the proper time. `Why, where is Amy's bottle of cologne?' she added, as the little flask did not appear. `She took it out a minute ago, and went off wit it to put a ribbon on it, or some such notion,' replied Jo dancing about the room to take the first stiffness off the new army-slippers.

  `How nice my handkerchiefs look, don't they! Hannah washed and ironed them for me, and I marked them a myself,' said Beth, looking proudly at the somewhat uneven letters which had cost her such labour.

  `Bless the child! she's gone and put "Mother" on these instead of "M. March". How funny!' cried Jo, taking up one.

  `Isn't it right? I thought it was better to do it so, because Meg's initials are `M. M.', and I don't want anyone to use these but Marmee,' said Beth, looking troubled.

  `It's all right, dear, and a very pretty idea - quite sensible, too, for no one can ever mistake them now. It will please her very much, I know,' said Meg, with a frown for Jo and a smile for Beth.

  `There's Mother. Hide the basket, quick!' cried Jo, as door slammed, and steps sounded in the hall.

  Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she saw her sisters all waiting for her.

  `Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?' asked Meg, surprised to see, by her hood and cloak that lazy Amy had been out so early.

  `Don't laugh at me, Jo! I didn't mean anyone should know till the time came. I only meant to change the little bottle for a big one, and I gave all my money to get it, and I'm truly trying not to be selfish any more.'

  As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replaced the cheap one; and looked so earnest and humble her little effort to forget herself that Meg hugged her on spot, and Jo pronounced her in `a trump', while Beth ran to the window and picked her finest rose to ornament the stately bottle.

  `You see, I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talking about being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changed it the minute I was up; and I'm so glad, for mine is the handsomest now.'

  Another bang of the street door sent the basket under the sofa, and the girls to the table, eager for breakfast.

  `Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books; we read some, and mean to, every day,' they cried, in chorus.

  `Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?'

  They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke; only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously:

  `I'm so glad you came before we began!'

  `May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?' said Beth, eagerly.

  `I shall take the cream and the muffins,' added Amy, heroically, giving up the articles she most liked.

  Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the bread into one big plate.

  `I thought you'd do it,' said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied. `You shall all go, and help me, and when we come back we will have bread and milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinner-time.'

  They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately it was early, and they went through back streets, few people saw them, and no one laughed at the queer party.

  A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bed-clothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.

  How the big eyes stared and blue lips smiled as the girl went in!

  `Ach, mein Gott! it is good angels come to us!' said in poor woman, crying for joy.

  `Funny angels in hoods and mittens,' said Jo and set them laughing.

  In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had been at work there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, and stopped up the broken panes with old hats an her own cloak. Mrs. March gave the mother tea and gruel and comforted her with promises of help, while she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it had been her own. The girls, meantime, spread the table, set the children round the fire, and fed them like so many hungry birds - laughing, talking, and trying to understand the funny broken English.

  `Das ist gut!'

  `Die Engelkinder!' cried the poor things, as they ate, and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze.

  The girls had never been called angel children before and thought it very agreeable, especially Jo, who had been considered a `Sancho' ever since she was born. That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn't get any of it; and when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think they were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.

  `That's loving our neighbour better than ourselves, and I like it,' said Meg, as they set out their presents, while their mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.

  Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal of love done up in the few little bundles; and the tall vase red roses, white chrysanthemums, and trailing vines, which stood in the middle, gave quite an elegant air to the table.

  `She's coming! Strike up, Beth! Open the door, Amy! Three cheers for Marmee!' cried Jo, prancing about, while Meg went to conduct Mother to the seat of honour.

  Beth played her gayest march, Amy threw open the door and Meg enacted escort with great dignity. Mrs. March was both surprised and touched; and smiled with her eyes full a she examined her presents, and read the little notes which accompanied them. The slippers went on at once, a new handkerchief was slipped into her pocket, well scented with Amy's cologne, the rose was fastened in her bosom, and the nice gloves were pronounced a `perfect fit'.

  There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining, in the simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals so pleasant at the time, so sweet to remember long afterwards, and then all fell to work.

  The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time that the rest of the day was devoted to preparations for the evening festivities.

  Not rich enough to afford any great outlay for private performances, the girls put their wits to work, and necessity - being the mother of invention - made whatever they needed. Very clever were some of their productions - paste board guitars, antique lamps made of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silver paper, gorgeous robes of old cotton glittering with tin spangle from a pickle factory, and armour covered with the same useful diamond-shaped bits, left ii the sheets when the lids of tin preserve-pots were cut out. The furniture was used to being turned topsy-turvy, and the big chamber was the scene of many innocent revels.

  No gentlemen were admitted; so Jo played male parts to her heart's content, and took immense satisfaction in a pair of russet-leather boots given her by a friend. These boots, an old foil, and a slashed doublet once used by an artist for some picture, were Jo's chief treasures, and appeared on all occasions. The smallness of the company made it necessary for the two principal actors to take several parts apiece; ant they certainly deserved some credit for the hard work the did in learning three or four different parts, whisking in ant out of various costumes, and managing the stage besides. It was excellent drill for their memories, a harmless amusement, and employed many hours which otherwise would have been idle, lonely, or spent in less profitable society.

  On Christmas night, a dozen girls piled on to the bed which was the dress-circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintz curtains in a most flattering state of expectancy. There was a good deal of rustling and whispering behind the curtain, a trifle of lamp-smoke, and an occasional giggles from Amy, who was apt to get hysterical in the excitement of the moment. Presently a bell sounded, the curtains flew apart, and the Operatic Tragedy began.

  `A gloomy wood', according to the one play-bill, we represented by a few shrubs in pots, green baize on the floor and a cave in the distance. This cave was made with clothes-horse for a roof, bureaus for walls; and in it was small furnace in full blast, with a black spot on it, and a old witch bending over it. The stage was dark, and the glow of the furnace had a fine effect, especially as real steam issued from the kettle when the witch took off the cover. A moment was allowed for the first thrill to subside; the: Hugo, the villain, stalked in with a clanking sword at hi side, a slouched hat, black beard, mysterious cloak, and the boots. After pacing to and fro in much agitation, he struck his forehead, and burst out in a wild strain, singing of his hatred to Roderigo, his love for Zara, and his pleasing resolution to kill the one and win the other. The gruff tones of Hugo's voice, with an occasional shout when his feeling overcame him, were very impressive, and the audience applauded the moment he paused for breath. Bowing with the air of one accustomed to public praise, he stole to the cavern and ordered Hagar to come forth with a commanding `What ho, minion! I need thee!'

  Out came Meg, with grey horse-hair hanging about her face, a red and black robe, a staff, and cabbalistic signs upon her cloak. Hugo demanded a potion to make Zara adore him, and one to destroy Roderigo. Hagar, in a fine dramatic melody, promised both, and proceeded to call up the spirit who would bring the love philtre:

  `Hither, hither, from my home,

  Airy sprite, I bid thee come!

  Born of roses, fed on dew,

  Charms and potions canst thou brew?

  Bring me here, with elfin speed,

  The fragrant philtre which I need;

  Make it sweet and swift and strong,

  Spirit, answer now my song!'

  A soft strain of music sounded, and then at the back of the cave appeared a little figure in cloudy white, with glittering wings, golden hair, and a garland of roses on its head. Waving a wand, it sang:

  `Hither I come,

  From my airy home,

  Afar in the silver moon.

  Take this magic spell, And use it well,

  Or its power will vanish soon!'

  And, dropping a small, gilded bottle at the witch's feet, the spirit vanished. Another chant from Hagar produced an other apparition - not a lovely one; for, with a bang, as ugly black imp appeared, and, having croaked a reply tossed a dark bottle at Hugo, and disappeared with a mocking laugh. Having warbled his thanks and put the potions is his boots, Hugo departed; and Hagar informed the audience that, as he had killed a few of her friends in times past, she has cursed him, and intends to thwart his plans, and be revenged on him. Then the curtain fell, and the audience reposed and ate candy while discussing the merits of the play.

  A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again; but when it bme evident what a masterpiece of stage-carpentering had been got ups no one murmured at the delay. It was truly superb! A tower rose to the ceiling half-way up appeared a window, with a lamp burning at it and behind the white curtain appeared Zara in a lovely blue and silver dress, waiting for Roderigo. He came in gorgeous array, with plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut love-locks, guitar, and the boots, of course. Kneeling at the foot of the tower, he sang a serenade in melting tones. Zara replied, and, after a musical dialogue, consented to fly. Then came the grand effect of the play. Roderigo produced a rope ladder, with five steps to it, threw up one end, and invited Zara to descend. Timidly she crept from her lattice, put her hand on Roderigo's shoulder, and was about to leap gracefully down, when, in Alas! alas for Zara!' she forgot her train - it caught in the window, the tower tottered, leant forward, fell with a crash, and buried the unhappy lovers in the ruins!

  A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved wildly from the wreck, and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, `I told you so! I told you so!' With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro, the cruel sire, rushed in, dragged out his daughter, with a hasty aside:

  `Don't laugh! Act as if it was all right!' - and, ordering Roderigo up, banished him from the kingdom with wrath and scorn. Though decidedly shaken by the fall of the tower upon him, Roderigo defied the old gentleman, and refused to stir. This dauntless example fired Zara: she also defied her sire, and he ordered them both to the deepest dungeons of the castle. A stout little retainer came in with chains, and led them away, looking very much frightened, and evidently forgetting the speech he ought to have made.

  Act third was the castle hall; and here Hagar appeared, having come to free the lovers and finish Hugo. She hears him coming, and hides; sees him put the potions into two cups of wine, and bid the timid little servant in Bear them to the captives in their cells, and tell them I shall come anon.' The servant takes Hugo aside to tell him something, an Hagar changes the cups for two others which are harmless Ferdinando, the `minion', carries them away, and Hagar puts back the cup which holds the poison meant for Roderigo. Hugo, getting thirsty after a long warble, drinks it, loses his wits, and, after a good deal of clutching and stamping, falls flat and dies; while Hagar informs him what she has done in a song of exquisite power and melody.

  This was a truly thrilling scene, though some person might have thought that the sudden tumbling down of quantity of long hair rather marred the effect of the villain death. He was called before the curtain, and with great propriety appeared, leading Hagar, whose singing was considered more wonderful than all the rest of the performance put together.

  Act fourth displayed the despairing Roderigo on the point of stabbing himself, because he has been told that Zara has deserted him. Just as the dagger is at his heart, a lovely son is sung under his window, informing him that Zara is true, but in danger, and he can save her, if he will. A key thrown in, which unlocks the door, and in a spasm of rapture he tears off his chains, and rushes away to find an rescue his lady-love.

  Act fifth opened with a stormy scene between Zara and Don Pedro. He wishes her to go into a convent, but she won't hear of it; and, after a touching appeal, is about to fain when Roderigo dashes in and demands her hand. Don Pedro refuses, because he is not rich. They shout and gesticulate tremendously, but cannot agree, and Roderigo about to bear away the exhausted Zara, when the timid servant enters with a letter and a bag from Hagar, who ha mysteriously disappeared. The letter informs the party that she bequeaths untold wealth to the young pair, and an awful doom to Don Pedro, if he doesn't make them happy. The bag is opened, and several quarts of tin money shower down upon the stage, till it is quite glorified with the glitter. This entirely softens the in `stern sire': he consents without a murmur, all join in a joyful chorus, and the curtain falls upon the lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro's blessing in attitudes of the most romantic grace.

  Tumultuous applause followed, but received an unexpected check; for the cot-bed, on which the `dress-circle' was built, suddenly shut up, and extinguished the enthusiastic audience. Roderigo and Don Pedro flew to the rescue and all were taken out unhurt, though many were speechless with laughter. The excitement had hardly subsided, when Hannah appeared, with `Mrs. March's compliments, and would the ladies walk down to supper'.

  This was a surprise, even to the actors; and, when they saw the table, they looked at one another in rapturous amazement. It was like Marmee to get up a little treat for them; but anything so fine as this was unheard of since the departed days of plenty. There was ice-cream - actually two dishes of it, pink and white - and cake and fruit and distracting French bonbons, and, in the middle of the table, four great bouquets of hot-house flowers.

  It quite took their breath away; and they stared first at the table and then at their mother, who looked as if she enjoyed it immensely.

  `Is it fairies?' asked Amy.

  `It's Santa Claus,' said Beth.

  `Mother did it'; and Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite her grey beard and white eyebrows.

  `Aunt March had a good fit, and sent the supper,' cried Jo, with a sudden inspiration.

  `All wrong. Old Mr. Laurence sent it,' replied Mr March.

  `The Laurence boy's grandfather! What in the world put such a thing into his head? We don't know him!' exclaimed Meg.

  `Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast party. He is an odd old gentleman, but that pleased him. He knew my father, years ago; and he sent me a polite note this afternoon, saying he hoped I would allow him to express his friendly feeling towards my children by sending them few trifles in honour of the day. I could not refuse; and you have a little feast at night to make up for the bread-and-milk breakfast.'

  `That boy put it into his head, I know he did! He's capital fellow, and I wish we could get acquainted. He loon as if he'd like to know us; but he's bashful, and Meg is prim she won't let me speak to him when we pass,' said Jo as the plates went round, and the ice began to melt out sight, with `Ohs!' and `Ahs!' of satisfaction.

  `You mean the people who live in the big house net door, don't you?' asked one of the girls. `My mother knows old Mr. Laurence; but says he's very proud, and doesn't like to mix with his neighbours. He keeps his grandson shut up, when he isn't riding or walking with his tutor, and make him study very hard. We invited him to our party, but he didn't come. Mother says he's very nice, though he never speaks to us girls.'

  `Our cat ran away once, and he brought her back, and we talked over the fence, and were getting on capitally - all about cricket, and so on - when he saw Meg coming, and walked off. I mean to know him some day; for he needs fun, I'm sure he does,' said Jo decidedly.

  `I like his manners, and he looks like a little gentleman; so I've no objection to your knowing him, if a Proper opportunity comes. He brought the flowers himself; and I should have asked him in, if I had been sure what was going on upstairs. He looked so wistful as he went away, hearing the frolic, and evidently having none of his own.'

  `It's a mercy you didn't, Mother!' laughed Jo, looking at her boots. `But we'll have another play, some time, that he can see. Perhaps he'll help act; wouldn't that be jolly?'

  `I never had such a fined bouquet before! How pretty it is!' And Meg examined her flowers with great interest.

  `They are lovely. But Beth's roses are sweeter to me,' said Mrs. March, smelling the half-dead posy in her belt.

  Beth nestled up to her, and whispered softly, `I wish I could send my bunch to Father. I'm afraid he isn't having such a merry Christmas as we are.'

 

圣诞节一早,天刚蒙蒙亮,乔便第一个醒来。她看到壁炉边没有挂着袜子,一时深感失望。多年前,她的小袜子因为糖果塞得太满而掉落地上,她也曾这样失望过。稍后她想起母亲的诺言,便悄悄把手伸到枕头下面,果然摸出一本菲红色封面的书。她十分熟悉这本书,因为它记载的是历史上最优秀的人物的经典故事。乔觉得这正是一切踏上漫长征途的朝圣者所需要的指导书。她一声"圣诞快乐“把梅格叫醒,叫她看看枕头下面有什么。梅格掏出一本绿色封面、带有相同插图的书,妈妈在上面题了词,使这件礼物倍添珍贵。不一会,贝思和艾美也醒来了,翻寻到各自的小书--一本乳白色,另一本蓝色 -四姐妹于是坐着边看边讨论,不觉东方已泛起红霞,新的一天又告开始。

玛格丽特虽然有点爱慕虚荣,但她天性温柔善良,颇得姐妹们敬重,特别是乔,更是深深地爱着自己的姐姐,并对她言听计从,因为她无论说什么都总是轻声细语的。

“姑娘们,”梅格严肃地说,看看身边头发蓬乱的一位,又看看房间另一头戴着睡帽的两个小脑袋,”妈妈希望我们爱惜这些书,读好这些书,我们应该立即行动。虽然我们以前做得挺认真,但自从爸爸离家后,战乱七繁,我们忽略了许多事。你们爱怎样我不管,但我要把书放在这张桌上,每天早上一醒来就读一点,因为我知道,这样会有好处,它将伴我度过每一天。”说完她打开新书读了起来,乔用胳膊拥着她,与她并肩而读,不安分的脸上露出少见的宁静。

“梅格真好!来,艾美,我们也一起读吧。我帮你解释生词,我们不懂的地方就由她们来讲解好了,”贝思轻声说。她被漂亮的小书和两位姐姐全神贯注的模样深深感动了。

“真开心,我的封面是蓝色的,”艾美说。接下来除了轻轻的翻书声外,屋里一片宁静。这时,冬日的阳光悄悄潜入屋内,轻柔地抚摸着她们亮丽的头发和严肃的脸庞,向她们致以圣诞节的问候。

“妈妈哪儿去了?”半个小时后,梅格和乔跑下楼,要找妈妈道谢。

“老天才知道。一些穷人来讨东西,你妈马上就去看他们需要什么。她是天底下最菩萨心肠的女人,”罕娜答道。老嬷嬷自打梅格出生以来就一直和她们一家生活在一起,尽管她是个佣人,大家都拿当朋友。

“我想她很快就会回来,你先煎饼,把东西准备好,”梅格一边说一边把装在篮子里的礼物又看了一遍。礼物藏在沙发下面,准备在适当的时候拿出来。”咦,艾美的那瓶古龙水呢?”她接着又问,因为篮子里没有那个小瓶子。

“她刚刚把它拿走了,要系根丝带或者什么小玩意儿,”乔答道。她正在屋子里蹦来蹦去,要把硬邦邦的军鞋穿软和。

“我的手帕漂亮极了,对吧?罕娜把它们洗得干干净净,还熨过了,上面的字都是我亲手绣的,”贝思说着,骄傲地看着那些她费了许多工夫绣成但又不太工整的字体。

“哎呀!她把'马奇太太'绣成'妈妈'了,真有趣!”乔拿起一条手帕嚷道。

“这样不行吗?我原以为这样会更好,因为梅格的首写字母也是M.M.,而这些手帕我只想让妈妈用。”贝思的神情显得有点不安。

“这样挺好,亲爱的,而且主意不错--相当有理哩,因为这样就不会弄错了。妈妈一定会很高兴的,”梅格说着,对乔皱皱眉,又向贝思一笑。

“妈妈回来了,藏好篮子,快!”乔立即叫起来。门呯地一响,大厅传来了脚步声。

艾美急匆匆地走进来,看到姐姐们都在等她,显得有点不好意思。

“你到哪儿去了,藏在后面的是什么?”梅格问。看到艾美穿戴整齐,她不由诧异这小懒虫竟然这么早就出去了!

“别笑我,乔!我并不是有意要瞒着你们,我只是花掉全部的钱把小瓶的古龙水换成大瓶的,我真的不想再那么自私了。”艾美一边说一边给大家看她用原先的便宜货换回来的大瓶古龙水。她努力克服私利,显得诚恳而谦恭,梅格一把抱住了她,乔宣布她是个"大好人",贝思则跑到窗边摘下一朵美丽的玫瑰花来装饰这个漂亮的大瓶子。

“你们知道,今天早上大家一起读书,又谈到要做好孩子,我为自己的礼物感到羞愧,所以起床后马上跑到附近把它换过来,我真高兴,因为我的礼物现在成了最漂亮的啦。”临街的大门又响了一下,篮子再次藏到沙发下面,姑娘们围坐在桌子边,等着吃早餐。

“圣诞快乐,妈咪!谢谢你送给我们的书。我们读了一点,以后每天都要读,“姐妹们齐声喊道。

“圣诞快乐,小姑娘们!真高兴你们马上就开始学习,可要坚持下去埃不过坐下之前我想说几句话。离这儿不远的地方,躺着一个可怜的妇人和一个刚生下来的婴儿。六个孩子为了不被冻僵挤在一张床上,因为他们没有火取暖。那里没有吃的,最大的孩子来告诉我他们又冷又饿。姑娘们,你们愿意把早餐送给他们做圣诞礼物吗?”她们刚才等了差不多一个小时,现在正饿得慌,有一阵子大家都默不作声- 就那么一阵子,只听乔冲口而出道:“我真高兴,早餐还没开始呢!”“我帮着把东西拿给那些可怜的孩子好吗?”贝思热切地问道。

“我来拿奶油和松饼,”艾美接着说,英雄似地放弃了自己最喜欢吃的东西。

梅格已动手把荞麦盖上,把面包堆放到一个大盘子里。

“我早料到你们会这样做,”马奇太太舒心地微笑道,”你们都去帮我,回来后早餐吃点牛奶面包,到正餐的时候再补回来。”大家很快准备妥当,队伍出发了。幸亏时候尚早,她们又打后街穿过,没几个人看到她们,也没人取笑这支奇怪的队伍。

这是一个满目凄凉的贫贱之家,四壁萧然,门窗破败,屋里没有炉火,床上被褥褴褛,病弱的母亲抱着啼哭的婴儿,一群面黄肌瘦、饥肠辘辘的孩子披着一张破被缩成一团。

看见姑娘们走进来,他们惊喜得瞪大眼睛,咧开冻得发紫的嘴唇笑了起来!

“哎呀,老天爷,善良的天使看我们来了!”那个可怜的女人欢喜得叫起来。

“是戴帽子手套的趣怪天使,”乔说道,逗得他们都笑起来。

这情景真让人以为是好心的神灵在显圣呢。罕娜用带来的木柴生起炉火,又用一些旧帽子和自己的斗篷挡住破烂的玻璃窗。马奇太太一边为做母亲的端茶递粥,一边安慰她,让她宽心,又像对待自己的亲生骨肉一样轻柔地为小宝宝穿上衣服。姑娘们摆好桌子,把孩子们安顿到火炉边,像喂一群饥饿的小鸟一样喂他们,并跟他们说笑,尽力想听明白他们有趣而又蹩脚的英语。

“真系(是)好!”“这些天使好心人!”这班可怜的孩子边吃边把发紫的小手伸到温暖的火炉边暖和着。

姑娘们还是第一次被人称作小天使,觉得非常惬意,尤其是乔,她自打娘胎生下来就被大家当作"桑丘",因此更加得意。虽然她们没有吃上一口早餐,心里却感到无比的舒畅。当这四个饥肠辘辘的小姑娘把温暖留给别人,走在回家的路上时,我想合城里再没人能比她们更幸福了。她们在圣诞节早上把最好的早餐送给穷人,自己却宁愿吃面包和牛奶。

“这就是所谓爱别人胜于爱自己,我喜欢这样,”梅格说。

她们趁母亲上楼为贫穷的赫梅尔一家收集衣物时把礼物摆了出来。

这些小礼物并不贵重,但都经过精心的包装,从中可见一片深情。一只高高的花瓶立在桌子中间,里头插着红色的玫瑰和白色的菊花,衬着几缕垂蔓,平添一份雅致。

“她来了!开始演奏,贝思!开门,艾美!为妈妈欢呼三声!”乔欢跃着大声喊叫,梅格则上前去把妈妈接到贵宾席位。

贝思弹起欢快的进行曲,艾美拉开门,梅格俨然是一个护花使者。马奇太太既惊讶又感动,她含笑端详着她的礼物,读着附在上面的小字条,不由眼中噙满泪水地笑了。她当即穿上便鞋,又把一条散发着古龙水香味的手帕放入衣袋,然后她把那朵玫瑰花别在胸前,又称赞别致的手套"绝对合适"。

大家笑着、吻着、解释着,这种简单而又充满爱意的方式增添了家里的节日气氛,其温馨让人永久难忘。然后,大家又投入了工作。

早上的慈善活动和庆典花了不少时间,余下的时间便用来准备晚上的欢庆活动。由于年龄太小,不宜经常上戏院,又因为经济拮据,支付不起业余表演的大笔费用,姑娘们于是充分发挥才智--需要是发明之母 -需要什么,她们便做什么。她们的创造品有些还挺见心机-用纸板做的吉它,用旧式牛油瓶裹上锡纸做成的古灯,用旧棉布做的鲜艳夺目的长袍,面上亮晶晶地镶着从一家腌菜厂拿来的小锡片,还有镶有同样的钻石形小锡片的盔甲,这些被派上用场的小锡片是腌菜厂做罐头剩下的边角料。屋子里的家具常常被弄得乱七八糟,大房间就是舞台,姑娘们在台上天真无邪地尽兴表演。

由于不收男士,乔便尽情地扮演男角。她对一双黄褐色的长统皮靴尤为满意。因为靴子是她的一个朋友赠送的,这位朋友认识一位女士,女士又认识一位演员。这双靴子、一把旧钝头剑,还有某个艺术家用来画过几幅画的开衩背心,这些便是乔的主要宝藏,任何场合都得登台亮相。因为剧团小,两个主要演员必须分别扮演几个角色。她们同时学习三四个不同角色的表演,飞快地轮番换上各式各样的戏服,同时还要兼顾幕后工作,其努力精神值得称道。这种有益的娱乐活动可以很好地锻炼她们的记忆力,并可以打发闲暇,排遣寂寞,减少无聊的社交。

圣诞之夜,十二个女孩子挤在花楼 -一张床— 的上头,坐在黄蓝二色混合的磨光印花帘幕前面,翘首以盼,焦急地等着看戏。幕后灯光朦胧,不时传来沙沙的响声和悄悄的话语声,偶尔还传来容易激动的艾美在兴奋之中发出的咯咯笑声。不一会铃声响起,帘幕拉开,《歌剧式的悲剧》开始了。

几株盆栽灌木、铺在地板上的绿色厚毛呢,以及远处的一个洞穴构成了节目单上的"阴森森的树林",洞穴用晒衣架做洞顶,衣柜做墙壁,里头有一个熊熊燃烧着的小炉子,一个老巫婆正俯身把弄炉上的一个黑锅。舞台阴森黑暗,熊熊的炉火营造了良好的舞台效果。女巫揭开锅盖,锅里冒出阵阵蒸气,令人叫绝。第一阵高潮过后,歹徒雨果阔步上常他嘴上蓄着黑胡子,头上歪戴着一顶帽子,脚踏长靴,身披神秘外衣,腰间佩一把当啷作响的宝剑。他焦躁不安地来回走了几步,猛然一拍额头,放声高歌,唱他对罗德力戈的恨、对萨拉的爱,以及要杀掉仇人、赢得莎拉的心愿。雨果粗哑的嗓音和感情暴发时偶然发出的一声大喝给观众留下极其深刻的印象,他刚停下要歇口气,大家便报以热烈的掌声。他习以为常地躬身谢过,又轻轻走到洞穴,大模大样地命黑格出来:“呔!奴才!出来!”梅格出来,脸上挂着灰色马鬃,身穿黑红二色长袍,手持拐杖,大衣上画着神秘符号。雨果向他索取两种魔药,一种可以使莎拉爱他,另一种用来毒死罗德力戈。黑格唱起优美的歌儿,答应把两种魔药都给他,接着他把送魔药的小精灵叫出来。戏文唱道:来吧、来吧,空中的小精灵。

我令你从家里过来!

你玫瑰生成,雨露裹腹,

可知道怎样调制魔药?

快速速给我送来,

我要的芳馥药儿,

要调得既浓又甜,药力神速,

快回答我吧,小精灵!

音乐轻柔地奏起来,接着洞穴后面现出一个小身影:金色的头发,一身乳白色的衣裳,两个翅膀闪闪发亮,头上戴着玫瑰花环。它挥舞魔杖唱道:来了,我来了,从我虚无缥渺的家园,那遥远的银色的月亮。

把魔药拿去,

并用在适当的地方,

不然它的魔力就会很快失去!

小精灵把一个金闪闪的小瓶子扔到女巫脚下,随之消失。黑格再次施用魔法唤来另一个幽灵。只听呯的一声,一个丑陋的黑色小魔鬼出来。它用阴森森的声音作了回答,然后把一个黑色瓶子扔向雨果,冷笑一声,消失得无影无踪。雨果用颤抖的嗓音道过谢,把两瓶魔药放进靴子里,转身离去。黑格告诉观众,因为雨果以前曾杀死过她的几个朋友,她给他下了魔咒,准备挫败他的计划,向他复仇。接着帘幕落下,观众们一边休息和吃糖,一边评长论短。

帘幕迟迟没有拉开,里头传来好一阵锤打声。不过当舞台布景终于出现在眼前时,观众们谁都顾不得抱怨刚才耽误了时间,因为布景实在太美了,简直是巧夺天工!只见一座塔楼耸入屋顶,塔楼半空露出一扇亮着灯光的窗户,白色的帘幕后面莎拉身穿一套漂亮的银蓝二色裙子在等待罗德力戈。罗德力戈盛装走进。他一头栗色鬈发,戴一顶插着羽毛的帽子,身披红色外衣,手拿吉它,脚踏长靴。当然啦,他跪在塔下,柔情万分地唱起一支小夜曲。莎拉回答他,用歌声对了几句话后,同意私奔。接下来是话剧的大场面。罗德力戈拿出一张有五个梯级的草绳软梯,把一端抛上去,请莎拉下来。莎拉含羞从花窗格子爬下来,手扶罗德力戈的肩头,正要优雅地往下跳,突然观众叫起来:“哎呀!哎呀!莎拉!”原来一不留神,她的长裙被窗户绊住了。塔楼摇晃着向前倾斜,轰的一声倒下,把这对倒霉的恋人埋在废墟里!

众人尖声大叫,只见黄褐色皮靴伸出废墟使劲乱摇,一个金发脑袋探出来叫道:“我早就告诉过你会这样!我早就告诉过你会这样!”那位冷酷的父亲唐·佩德罗头脑极为冷静,他冲进去拖出自己的女儿,一把拉向身边。

“别笑!继续演,就当什么也没发生过!”他命令罗德力戈站起来,盛怒而轻蔑地将他驱逐出去。虽然被倒下的塔楼砸得不轻,罗德力戈并没有忘掉自己的角色,他不理睬这位老绅士,就是不动身子。这种大无畏的精神启发了莎拉;她也不理睬父亲。唐·佩得罗于是命令两人一起下到城堡最低层的地牢里。一位稍胖的小侍从手持锁链走进来,神色慌张地把他们带走,显然是把讲的台词忘掉了。

第三幕是城堡的大厅,黑格在此出现,准备解救这对恋人并解决雨果。她听到雨果走进来便藏起来,看他把魔药倒进两个酒杯,又听他吩咐那位腼腆的小侍从:“把酒带给地牢里的囚徒,告诉他们我一会就来。”小侍从把雨果带到一边说了几句话,黑格随即把两杯药酒换成两杯没有药性的。”奴才"费迪南多把酒带走了,黑格把原来要给罗德力戈的那杯毒酒放回去。雨果唱完一支冗长的歌后感到口渴,便喝下那杯毒酒,顿时失去神智,拼命挣扎一番后,挺直身子倒地而死。这时黑格用热烈而优美的曲调唱了一首歌,说明自己刚才使了什么手段。

这真是震撼人心的一幕,虽然有些人或许认为突然跌落的一把长发使歹徒之死显得有些失色。歹徒应观众的要求彬彬有礼地领着黑格走到幕前谢幕。黑格的歌声被认为是全场戏的问鼎之作。

第四幕大家看到罗德力戈听说莎拉离弃了他,万分绝望,准备自杀。他刚刚把剑对准心脏,突然听到窗下传来优美的歌声,告诉他莎拉没有变心,但身处险境,如果他愿意可以把她救出来。接着外面扔进一把钥匙。把门锁打开后,他狂喜地挫断锁链冲出门外,去营救心爱的姑娘。

第五幕开场时,莎拉和唐·佩得罗正闹得不可开交。唐·佩得罗要她进修道院,她坚决不从,并伤心欲绝地求他开恩,正要晕倒时,罗德力戈闯入并向她求婚。唐· 佩德罗不答应,因为他没有钱。两人大吵大闹一番,依然互不相让。罗德力戈正要把筋疲力尽的莎拉背走,羞怯的小侍从拿着黑格交给她的一封信和一个布袋走进来,黑格此时已神秘地消失。

这封信告诉大家她把一大笔财富赠给这对年轻人,如果唐·佩得罗破坏他们的幸福,必遭厄运。接着布袋打开了,大把大把的锡币洒落下来,堆在台上闪闪发亮,极为壮观。”狠心的父亲"这才软下心肠,一声不响地表示同意。众人于是齐声欢唱,一双恋人以极为优雅浪漫的姿态跪下,接受唐·佩德罗的祝福,帘幕随之降下。

接下来响起了热烈的掌声,正当此时,那座用作花楼的帆布床突然折拢,把热情洋溢的观众压倒。罗德力戈和唐·佩德罗飞身前来抢救,众人虽然毫发无损,但全都笑得说不出话来。大家刚刚恢复神态,罕娜进来说:“马奇太太致以祝贺,并请女士们下来用餐。”大家一阵惊喜,连演员亦不例外。看到桌子上摆着的东西,她们高兴得互相对望,同时都感到十分奇怪。妈妈平时也会弄点吃的款待她们,不过自从告别了宽裕的日子以来,这样的好东西连听都没听说过。桌子上摆着雪糕- 而且有两碟,一碟粉红色,一碟白色 还有蛋糕、水果和迷人的法式夹心糖,桌子中间还摆着四束美丽的温室鲜花!

这情景使她们大为惊讶。她们看看饭桌,又看看自己的母亲,母亲也显得非常高兴。

“这是小仙女干的吗?”艾美问。

“是圣诞老人,”贝思说。

“是妈妈干的!”脸上挂着白胡子白眉毛的梅格笑得又甜又美。

“是马奇婶婶心血来潮给我们送来的,”乔灵机一动叫道。

“全都不对,是劳伦斯老先生送来的,”马奇太太答道。

“那男孩的爷爷!他怎么会想到我们的呢?我们和他素不相识呀!”梅格嚷道。

“罕娜把你们早上做的事告诉了他的一个佣人。这位老绅士脾气古怪,但他听后很高兴。他多年前就认识我父亲,今天下午便给我送了张十分客气的字条,说希望我能允许他向我的孩子们表示他的善意,送上一点微不足道的圣诞礼物,我不便拒绝,所以你们晚上就开个小宴会,作为对面包加牛奶早餐的补偿。”“一定是那男孩出的主意,准没错!他是个一流的小伙子,但愿我们可以交朋友。他看来也想认识我们,只是有点怕羞,而梅格又一本正经,我们路过也不让我跟他说句话。”这时碟子传过来,雪糕已开始融化,乔一边说一边呵哈呵哈地吃得津津有味。

“你们说的是住在隔壁那座大房子里的人吗?”一个姑娘问,”我妈妈认识劳伦斯先生,但说他非常高傲,不喜欢与邻里交往。他把自己的孩子关在家里,只让他跟着家庭教师骑马散步,逼他用功读书。我们曾经邀请他参加我们的晚会,但他没来。妈妈说他相当不错,虽然他从不跟我们女孩子说话。”“一次我家的猫儿不见了,是他送回来的。我们隔着篱笆谈了几句,而且相当投机--谈的都是板球一类的东西 -他看到梅格走过来,就走开了。我终有一天要认识他的,因为他需要乐趣,我肯定他很需要,”乔自信地说道。

“他举止彬彬有礼,令人喜爱。如果时机适宜,我不反对你们交朋友。他今天亲自把鲜花送过来,我本应该请他进来的,但因为不知道你们在楼上干什么,就没让他进来。他走的时候似乎闷闷不乐,若有所思;他听到你们在玩闹,而显然他自己没什么玩的。”“幸亏没叫他进来,妈妈!”乔望望自己的靴子笑道,”不过以后我们会做一出他可以看的戏。或许他还可以和我们一起演出呢。那岂不更有趣?”“我从未收到过这样漂亮的花束!真是美极了!”梅格饶有兴致地审视着自己那束鲜花。

“花儿是漂亮!不过依我说贝思的玫瑰花更香,”马奇太太闻闻插在腰带上那几近凋零的花朵说道。

贝思依偎到她的身旁,轻身低语道:“我真希望能把我的那束花送给爸爸。我想他圣诞节恐怕过得没有我们这么快乐呢。”



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